Review: OPERATION RED SEA (2018) – NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL 2018
Screened as part of NYAFF’s retrospective on director Dante Lam (OPERATION MEKONG, VAMPIRE EFFECT) OPERATION RED SEA is a relentless barrage of action and patriotic propaganda. If Michael Bay had travelled back in time to direct John Wayne in THE GREEN BERETS, the results might have been somewhat similar.
Beginning with a skirmish against Somali pirates, the film quickly kicks into its main plot. A terrorist led coup in the fictional North African country of Yewaire has left hundreds of Chinese citizens in harm’s way. It’s also put a bunch of ISIS wannabes dangerously close to obtaining the materials to make several dirty nukes. The only solution is to send in the Sea Dragons, China’s equivalent of Seal Team 6.
Of course, things become much more complicated than expected, and our heroes soon find themselves trapped deep in hostile territory. What was supposed to be a stealthy raid erupts into full-scale warfare, complete with a tank battle and divine intervention in the form of a sandstorm.
Viewed simply as a collection of battle scenes, OPERATION RED SEA is certainly a success. Given a huge budget and access to all manner of military hardware, Lam stages spectacular confrontations one after the other. Based loosely on the evacuation of Chinese nationals from Yemen in 2015 it’s a great showcase for the brave men and women of the Chinese military as they defeat one group of evil villains after another, no matter how badly outnumbered.
The problem is, that’s all there is, there’s almost no character development at all. OPERATION RED SEA is pretty much a bunch of generically heroic commandos fighting equally generically evil terrorists, with some even less developed civilians caught in the middle. It also almost totally negates the film’s attempts to show the horrors of war, such as the scene where a bus full of refugees is hit by a mortar. We don’t know these people and have no connection to them, draining the scene of its impact despite the abundant and realistic gore.
The ultimate message seems to be, “War sucks if you’re caught in the middle of it. But it’s cool if you’re the guy zip-lining across rooftops with a big ass gun. Sign up today, citizen!” And if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll love OPERATION RED SEA. Those looking for a bit more depth may find it getting tedious, especially at a running time of over two hours.
OPERATION RED SEA is available on VOD from Well Go USA now and on DVD and Blu-ray July 24th.